Lone Gunmen

2001 saw the beginnings of a new type of otherworldly cinema, as much the progeny of gaming, comics, and fantasy/sci-fi series as older cinematic models like Ray Harryhausen or Star Wars, in which the elaboration of complex explorable environments takes an aesthetic front seat to all else. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter were the big-ticket items in this new form, but the maligned PLANET OF THE APES and FINAL FANTASY proved far more creative and inventive and beautifully idiosyncratic in their world-building. Most critics missed the point of these films. But they seemed part of a natural, long-desired progression toward the total movie, or at least the next-gen step in that direction. —Ed Halter

Whereas any romantic comedy (or romantic relationship) depends at least a little on natural chemistry, HAPPY ACCIDENTS is more about the considerable effort required to stretch it across time and space. In fact, the word fate—the genre's convenient excuse for contrivance—is never once mentioned. —Rob Nelson

Sharing more than a few traits with its diffident, passive, terminally conflicted protagonist, Jamie Thraves's THE LOW DOWN was perhaps destined to be overlooked. Here was a document of going-on-30 inertia that moved the template beyond the Gen-whatever postures of irony and anti-irony—and into an immobilizing vortex of self-consciousness. Jarvis Cocker has written songs about the same subject; on-screen this translated as a film about nothing and everything. With modest bemusement and uncanny specificity, The Low Down captured the queasy sensation of being reduced to a spectator of your own hazy life. —Dennis Lim

It's a sign of how far we've gotten from the post-punk anarchism of Repo Man that people didn't get BUBBLE BOY's satire on social prophylaxis. Director Blair Hayes's derisive energy and left-field humor seemed more pertinent than the sour middle-American put-downs in Hedwig and the Angry Inch or Waking Life's Philosophy 101 lectures. Coming from the same wild-card division of Disney that sponsors Wes Anderson, Hayes seems a pure comic spirit, with no agenda other than spotlighting the eccentricities in our culture and enjoying them. His impudence also got poetic: Jimmy, in his bubble suit, bounces across the desert with a vulture flapping in pursuit—an image as timeless as Chaplin's entrance followed by a bear in The Gold Rush. When making new friends at a rock concert, Jimmy's held aloft—like a beach ball. There's no happier image of camaraderie. —Armond White

Bahman Farmanara's SMELL OF CAMPHOR, FRAGRANCE OF JASMINE has the overstuffed quality of a movie made after decades of being shut out from filmmaking opportunities in Iran. Staging his own life as a mixed-genre circus in a manner superficially recalling 8 1/2 or Stardust Memories, Farmanara has created a kind of open-ended film notebook that can switch easily from the driest humor to the most painful unease, and that in the process takes us within the internal exile of an Iranian intellectual and artistic elite rarely depicted by Farmanara's colleagues. —Geoffrey O'Brien

TRAINING DAY, a quasi-Shakespearean monster movie ("King Kong! Ain't got nothin'! On me!") that contains Denzel Washington's best and trickiest performance, is also a clever subversion of the Matrix racial paradigm, in which the cool black guy with awesome shades and awesome drugs serves as hipster spirit-guide to the white acolyte and the audience. —Andrew O'Hehir

Unfairly maligned as the Rock's debut vehicle, THE MUMMY RETURNS is in fact a model of generous entertainment—an exemplar of CGI-fortified filmmaking that trumps any Indiana Jones sequel. Antic with asps and ammunition, crammed with battle scenes of marvelous density, the movie maintains a handmade Saturday-serial charm, thanks to writer-director Stephen Sommers's playful Egyptology and a cast that's always on the same page, led by Brendan Fraser's ironic meathead. —Ed Park

It is daunting to defend a low-tech heavy-metal zombie alien action thriller set on Mars, toplined by the actress best known for being naked throughout Species and a rap star whose most animated demeanor could charitably be described as phlegmatic. But god, I love JOHN CARPENTER'S GHOSTS OF MARS. Its exteriors are laughably cheap miniatures, and the situation never rises above pulp; yet there is more lucid storytelling here than in almost any other Hollywood picture of the year. The structure is complex—a dreamy overlapping of flashbacks within flashbacks—and the movie posits cool political underpinnings (Mars is run as a matriarchy, and the entire ghost thing is about colonialism and its consequences) without getting strident about it. Natasha Henstridge anchors the high-octane craziness with a calm intelligence so laid-back you might not notice—and most people didn't—how good she is. The dialogue is often berserk ("If we blow up the nuclear power station, what would happen? I mean, there'd be a huge explosion, right?"), but Carpenter means it, in a non-campy way. —Robert Horton

Let the truth finally ring out about my beloved JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS: No one was getting had here, except those who sourly convinced themselves out of rock-and-roll fun. Outrageously bold product placements, so troubling to self-appointed protectors of innocent consumer-viewers—including a Target-logoed private jet and, unforgettably, a golden-arched shower stall courtesy of McDonald's—actually accumulated into a savage indictment of the commodification of passion and punk alike. —Joshua Rothkopf

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